Czech president continues push to expand his role

By bne IntelliNews May 20, 2013

bne -

Deepening the increasingly bitter debate he has kicked off, Czech President Milos Zeman stuck another flag in the ground in his fight to expand the power of his post on May 17 when he blocked an academic appointment, while refusing to offer any reason behind the move.

Czech politicians from all sides joined academics in criticising Zeman's refusal to name literary historian Martin Putna a professor. The candidate is known as a literary historian and critic mainly focusing on Catholic literature.

He is also noted as a fierce critic of Zeman, and for his homosexuality, reports CTK. Zeman said he does not want to "humiliate" Putna by stating his reasons in public, adding that the academic can turn to the courts if he wishes.

Leftist populist Zeman took office in March after becoming the first Czech president elected by direct vote. Since then, he has been concentrating on pushing his way into everyday politics. His first call was for the weak centre-right coalition government to quit.

He has spent the past couple of months locked in conflict with his challenger in the presidential race - Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg - over the selection of new ambassadors. Previous heads of state have respected proposals for academic posts. Vaclav Klaus and Vaclav Havel appointed about 1,600 and 1,300 professors, respectively.

The move has brought the president into direct conflict with Vaclav Hampl - the rector of Charles University - who has called on Zeman to explain his reasons, and indicated that Zeman is disrespecting expert opinions. Putna said he will leave the matter up to the university.

Prime Minister Petr Necas said the decision depends solely on Zeman, and that the president must defend and explain his steps himself. Bohuslav Sobotka - leader of Zeman's former Social Democrat (CSSD) party, but no friend of the president since a falling out five years ago - claimed Zeman would violate academic freedom and politicise the appointment procedure, unless he presented serious reasons for his refusal.

Marek Benda - head of the parliamentary faction of coalition leader ODS - said the step seems to be yet another of Zeman's attempts at changing the defined rules respected by his predecessors based on the fact that he is the first Czech directly elected head of state. "It seems that these attempts of President Zeman need to be stopped," Benda said.

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